75th anniversary of Rhea Stadium features special night Friday
By Donna Brown Wilkerson

Posted on September 22, 2014 12:57 PM

This season, the Russellville High School Panthers are celebrating 75 years at Historic Rhea Stadium. The art deco style sports venue was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), as part of the “New Deal” program. The cost of the stadium was $90,000 (in 1939 dollars), about two-thirds of which was labor costs paid to men who otherwise would have been without work during the Great Depression.

Rhea Stadium has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. Its front entrance features six faces, all famous in the world of athletics at the time the stadium was constructed: William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey, James Francis “Jim” Thorpe, Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb, Paavo Johnannes Nurmi, Harold Edward “Red” Grange, and George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. The stadium is named for Thomas Stockdale Rhea, a former member of the Russellville School Board and supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first football game to be played at Rhea Stadium took place on Thanksgiving Day in November 1939 against the Bowling Green Purples. The game ended in a 6-6 tie. Earlier games in the ’39 season were played at nearby Legion Field, located between 6th and 7th streets.

Rhea Stadium is located on a 10-acre campus that was acquired by the city when Logan Female College closed in 1931. For many years, the stadium overlooked Russellville Middle School, but that building (except for the library) was torn down when the Russellville High School campus was expanded to include a junior high school. The former RMS library now houses the Technology Center for Russellville Independent Schools.

Although the stadium looks much the same as it did in 1939, there have been a few changes over the years, including addition of a press box, aluminum seats (originally, they were wood), a new scoreboard, and improved lighting in the 1980s and a straightening of the wall along Ninth Street in 2008 (thanks to a grant from the Carpenter Co. and contributions from other local businesses and alumnae).

As part of the season-long celebration of 75 Years at Rhea Stadium, there have been Honorary Captains at each home game this year, including James “Sonny” Duncan (RHS ’56), Johnny Guion (’59), Larry Johnson (’62), Toby Nichols (’69), and Brad Watson (’69), all legendary football players who once wore the black and gold.

There will be a special celebration during half-time of the RHS v. Franklin-Simpson game this Friday, Sept. 26, as families of the players and cheerleaders from the ’39 team are recognized. It is hoped that one or two members of the original team will be present, if their health allows. Mac Donaldson, son of the 1939 RHS football coach, Elvis Donaldson, will be a special guest. After leaving RHS, Elvis Donaldson went on to a successful coaching career at Bowling Green High School, with El Donaldson Stadium being named in his honor.

The RHS Panthers are 5-0 for the season this year, having defeated Trigg County and Butler County at home and won against Fort Campbell, Logan County, and Todd County on the road. The team is coached by John Myers, 2010 Kentucky Football Coaches Association/Russell Athletic Coach of the Year for Class 3A. He is assisted by Phil Todd, Toby Baptiste, Darnell Cross, Dudley Bouldin, Mikey Benton and Michael White.

Rhea Stadium is also used for other high school and middle school sporting events, as well as band competitions such as the Show of Bands.

Visitors should note that Rhea Stadium is located at the corner of E. 9th and Summer Street in the Historic District of Russellville, Kentucky, approximately 1.3 miles from the main campus of the Russellville Junior/Senior High School.

For a more detailed look at the history of Russellville football and of that 1939 season, see a story on The Logan Journal at http://www.theloganjournal.com/Stories.aspx?Article=sports533

n addition to those identified under the attached team picture, those on the front row, from left, are Earl Gordon, Roland 'Judge' Rhea, Robert Cates, Homer Chapman, Clarence Kurtsinger, Charles Welborn, George 'Red' Brown and Coach Elvis Donaldson. Hollis Baldwin and John Williams were absent when the picture was made.

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